We've known that the US has been engaging in airstrikes for some time, but the pace has picked up lately. The US has engaged in plausible deniability to date, claiming that it would not discuss such attacks and the Pakistanis appear to have been consulted in many cases.
That no longer appears to be the case. The Times essentially says that President Bush has authorized sending Special Forces into Pakistan to hunt terrorists. Secretly.
No longer. It can not be a secret when the New York Times publishes details on the front pages of its paper and website.
The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.Pakistan has never attempted to control all of its territory, treating the border regions as autonomous areas where the Pakistani military dared to tread. When Musharraf launched attacks into the area, Pakistani forces suffered horrible losses and the Taliban captured or killed hundreds of Pakistani soldiers.
American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.
“The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable,” said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. “We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued.”
The new orders reflect concern about safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, as well as an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants. They also illustrate lingering distrust of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies and a belief that some American operations had been compromised once Pakistanis were advised of the details.
The Central Intelligence Agency has for several years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But the new orders for the military’s Special Operations forces relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without its permission.
Pakistan’s top army officer said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate American incursions like the one that took place last week and that the army would defend the country’s sovereignty “at all costs.”
It is unclear precisely what legal authorities the United States has invoked to conduct even limited ground raids in a friendly country. A second senior American official said that the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission.
Now, this revelation makes relations with Pakistan's new President, Asif Ali Zardari, even more difficult. Did the Times think that this would help relations between the US and a nominal ally in the war on terror?
The US has had to walk a fine line with the Pakistanis because they need the supply routes and access to Afghanistan but know that the Pakistani government has repeatedly dragged its heels and appeased the Taliban and al Qaeda elements that use Pakistani territory as safe havens. This will seriously and needlessly strain relations between the two countries. There had been an understanding between the two countries on how to deal with the border regions and Taliban/al Qaeda elements, but that's now in jeopardy.
Watch for some anti-Bush or anti-American leftists to claim that the US is now engaging in yet another Laos or Cambodia campaign, hoping to repeat the mantra from the Vietnam era. If you want a rationale for how and why the Times published this story, I think that's it.
Of course, the Obama campaign will likely use this story to claim ownership of the idea of going into Pakistan and attacking the Taliban was his idea, but the problem isn't that we're going into Pakistan to attack the Taliban, but that we have a media outlet that decides on its own what is secret and what isn't, and that puts American lives at risk - both in the US and for those special forces operating in Pakistan who may now have to worry about Pakistani army forces in addition to going after al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Keep all this in mind as the Taliban continue bombing and attacking Pakistanis. Just yesterday, 25 more Pakistanis were murdered by the Taliban when they attacked a mosque.
The Taliban attacked a mosque filled with Ramadan worshippers in northwestern Pakistan, killing 25 and wounding more than 50. The attack came just one month after local tribes began to organize against the extremist group.
The attack occurred right on the Afghan border in the village of Banai in the district of Dir in the Northwest Frontier Province. The attackers threw three hand grenades into a mosque packed with worshippers for Ramadan. Immediately after the explosions, Taliban fighters raked the survivors with gunfire. The majority of those killed and wounded are children, Daily Times reported. The death toll is expected to rise as many of those wounded are in critical condition.